According to its mandate, Alberta’s Standing Committee on Public Accounts is an all-party committee consisting of 17 Members of the Legislative Assembly that reviews the annual report of the Auditor General of Alberta and the public accounts of the province. It is tradition across Canada that an opposition MLA occupy the Chairmanship of this committee.
Via to Capital Notebook, Edmonton-Gold Bar Liberal MLA Hugh MacDonald is crying foul after his powers as Chairman were severely limited by a recent motion by Wetaskiwin-Camrose PC MLA Verlyn Olsen to require that “all future correspondence on behalf of the public accounts committee (must) be signed by both the chair and deputy chair.” The Deputy Chair is currently Calgary-Lougheed PC MLA Dave Rodney.
More from Capital Notebook:
…before MacDonald can send out e-mails, make plans for future meetings, and demand government bodies make an appearance before the all-party committee, Calgary-Lougheed Tory Dave Rodney (the deputy chair) must give him the nod.
It’s an unusual practice, since it doesn’t happen in any other legislative committee, all of which are dominated by government Conservatives. Olson’s motion this morning was backed by all present government members and opposed by NDP Leader Brian Mason and Calgary-Varsity Liberal Harry Chase. (MacDonald, as the chairman, can’t actually vote.)
This is not the first time that the already limited power Alberta’s Public Accounts Committee has been harshly criticized. Here is an exert from MLA Kevin Taft‘s 2007 book Democracy Derailed which describes how much that committee’s oversight power had been limited:
Alberta’s Public Accounts Committee can meet once a week only when the legislature is sitting, which is all of three months per year. During approximately a dozen 90-minute meetings, the committee must review the spending of 24 provincial government departments with a combined budget of $24 billion.
That’s not all. Unlike the federal Public Accounts Committee, Alberta’s Public Accounts Committee cannot submit a report to the legislature. Legislators outside of Alberta find this restriction hard to fathom. Conservative Member of Parliament John Williams said “It’s shocking. I cannot believe a government majority would use their capacity to set the rules like that.”
It is unclear what prompted Mr. Olson to introduce this motion or why the PC MLAs on the committee supported it. I have contacted Mr. Olson’s office for an explanation and if I receive a response, I will post it here. I try to stay away from conspiracy theories, but with MLAs expected to start their summer break tomorrow (yes, in April) and the introduction of the distracted driver legislation taking the headlines, it feels like this motion was designed to be lost in the shuffle.